England v West Indies, 1st Investec Test, Edgbaston
Stuart Law believes West Indies can “exploit the weaknesses” in the England side and prove their critics wrong.
While West Indies are eighth in the Test rankings and without a Test victory in England since 2000, Law feels the inexperience of the England top-order provides “an opportunity” for his bowlers.
In particular, he has noted England’s difficulties in finding an opening partner for Alastair Cook – Mark Stoneman is set to become his 12th partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss – and the lack of experience elsewhere in a top five that includes Tom Westley and Dawid Malan, who have played four Tests between them.
“With a couple of debutants or a couple of new guys to the fore in Test cricket, that’s an opportunity for our bowlers,” Law said. “You always look at any little crack you can find.
“We’ve some pretty experienced, pretty good bowlers up front as well. So it’s an opportunity for us to exploit those weaknesses.”
Law also feels the manner in which some have dismissed his side’s chances could play to their advantage.
“Our players understand there’s a few comments flying around like that,” Law said. “And we’ve instructed them to use that as motivation to go out and play your best.
“There’s been a lot said about this cricket team and that is motivation for them. We’re looking forward. Let’s rewrite that history.”
Such motivation worked well the last time these two teams played. Ahead of that series, in 2015, the ECB chairman, Colin Graves, suggested West Indies were a “mediocre” side which should be defeated relatively comfortably by England. The words were stuck to West Indies’ dressing-room door and served to inspire the team to a 1-1 series result that hastened the demise of Peter Moores as England coach. Graves subsequently apologised for his comments.
On this occasion there has been no such talk from the England camp. While some aspects of the UK media remain bullishly confident, the most damning appraisal of the West Indies’ hopes as come from one of their former players. Curtly Ambrose suggested West Indies would have to “play exceptionally well to even compete against England.”
If West Indies are to “exploit those weaknesses” they are likely to need Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder in top form. On recent evidence Gabriel is not at his best – he delivered 20 no-balls in nine overs against Derbyshire the other day – while Law accepts Roach does not quite have the pace that once made life so uncomfortable for the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Ricky Ponting. He does, however, have nothing but praise for Holder.
“Kemar had a bit of time out of the game with injuries and a nasty car accident,” Law said. “He’s had to fight his way back. He’s probably not as quick as he has been but I think he’s a better bowler for that. He is still fast enough to cause problems and he is swinging the ball both ways.
“Shannon is coming along nicely. He is training the house down and just needs a bowl to get that rhythm back. He’s fit to bowl. We’re just waiting on him to hit his traps – do that and it’s 95mph coming at you.
“The ground was uneven in Derby. He hadn’t bowled for a while and he was over-striding. When he got it right he looked good.
“As for Jason… He’s a young man but very intelligent and high quality. The captaincy is a lot of responsibility but he does it with fantastic integrity. He’s a great leader. His bowling is more than very good and he can bat and score runs.
“He’s doing everything to make sure he captains this side not just this series but for 10 or 15 years.”
While Law does not sound totally convinced by the idea of day-night cricket in England (“it works in certain countries,” he said) or the pink ball (“it’s very hard to shine… and it sounds like a plastic ball off the bat”), he thinks the format is worth a try for the long-term health of the game.
“We understand the ICC are looking at ways to promote Test cricket,” he said. “And if it does bring in extra people after work, or extra funding for grass roots cricket, then it’s got to be here to stay.” (ESPNCricinfo)
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo